Uneasy Money/Chapter 25
Bill made his way along the swaying train to the smoking-car, which was almost empty. It had come upon him overwhelmingly that he needed tobacco. He was in the mood when a man must either smoke or give up altogether the struggle with Fate. He lit his pipe, and looked out of the window at Long Island racing past him. It was only a blur to him.
The conductor was asking for tickets. Bill showed his mechanically, and the conductor passed on. Then he settled down once more to his thoughts. He could not think coherently yet. His walk to the station had been like a walk in a dream. He was conscious of a great, dull pain that weighed on his mind, smothering it. The trees and houses still moved past him in the same indistinguishable blur.
He became aware that the conductor was standing beside him, saying something about a ticket. He produced his once more, but this did not seem to satisfy the conductor. To get rid of the man, who was becoming a nuisance, he gave him his whole attention, as far as that smothering weight would allow him to give his whole attention to anything, and found that the man was saying strange things. He thought that he could not have heard him correctly.
'What?' he said.
'Lady back there told me to collect her fare from you,' repeated the conductor. 'Said you would pay.'
Bill blinked. Either there was some mistake or trouble had turned his brain. He pushed himself together with a supreme effort.
'A lady said I would pay her fare?'
'But—but why?' demanded Bill, feebly.
The conductor seemed unwilling to go into first causes.
'Search me!' he replied.
'Pay her fare!'
'Told me to collect it off the gentleman in the grey suit in the smoking-car. You're the only one that's got a grey suit.'
'There's some mistake.'
'What does she look like?'
The conductor delved in his mind for adjectives.
'Small,' he said, collecting them slowly. 'Brown eyes—'
He desisted from his cataloguing at this point, for, with a loud exclamation, Bill had dashed away.
Two cars farther back he had dropped into the seat by Elizabeth and was gurgling wordlessly. A massive lady, who had entered the train at East Moriches in company with three children and a cat in a basket, eyed him with a curiosity that she made no attempt to conceal. Two girls in a neighbouring seat leaned forward eagerly to hear all. This was because one of them had told the other that Elizabeth was Mary Pickford. Her companion was sceptical, but nevertheless obviously impressed.
'My God!' said Bill.
The massive lady told the three children sharply to look at their picture-book.
'Well, I'm hanged!'
The mother of three said that if her offspring did not go right along to the end of the car and look at the pretty trees trouble must infallibly ensue.
'Elizabeth!' At the sound of the name the two girls leaned back, taking no further interest in the proceedings.
'What are you doing here?'
Elizabeth smiled, a shaky but encouraging smile.
'I came after you, Bill.'
'You've got no hat!'
'I was in too much of a hurry to get one, and I gave all my money to the man who drove the car. That's why I had to ask you to pay my fare. You see, I'm not too proud to use your money after all.'
'Tickets please. One seventy-nine.'
It was the indefatigable conductor, sensible of his duty to the company and resolved that nothing should stand in the way of its performance. Bill gave him five dollars and told him to keep the change. The conductor saw eye to eye with him in this.
'Bill! You gave him—' She gave a little shrug of her shoulders. 'Well, it's lucky you're going to marry a rich girl.'
A look of the utmost determination overspread Bill's face.
'I don't know what you're talking about. I'm going to marry you. Now that I've got you again I'm not going to let you go. You can use all the arguments you like, but it won't matter. I was a fool ever to listen. If you try the same sort of thing again I'm just going to pick you up and carry you off. I've been thinking it over since I left you. My mind has been working absolutely clearly. I've gone into the whole thing. It's perfect rot to take the attitude you did. We know we love each other, and I'm not going to listen to any talk about time making us doubt it. Time will only make us love each other all the more.'
'Why, Bill, this is eloquence.'
'I feel eloquent.'
The stout lady ceased to listen. They had lowered their voices and she was hard of hearing. She consoled herself by taking up her copy of Gingery Stories and burying herself in the hectic adventures of a young millionaire and an artist's model.
Elizabeth caught a fleeting glimpse of the cover.
'I bet there's a story in there of a man named Harold who was too proud to marry a girl, though he loved her, because she was rich and he wasn't. You wouldn't be so silly as that, Bill, would you?'
'It's the other way about with me.'
'No, it's not. Bill, do you know a man named Nichols?'
'J. Nichols. He said he knew you. He said he had told you about Uncle Ira leaving you his money.'
'Jerry Nichols! How on earth—Oh, I remember. He wrote to you, didn't he?'
'He did. And this morning, just after you had left, he called.'
'Jerry Nichols called?'
'To tell me that Uncle Ira had made another will before he died, leaving the money to me.'
Their eyes met.
'So I stole his car and caught the train,' said Elizabeth, simply.
Bill was recovering slowly from the news.
'But—this makes rather a difference, you know,' he said.
'In what way?'
'Well, what I mean to say is, you've got five million dollars and I've got two thousand a year, don't you know, and so—'
Elizabeth tapped him on the knee.
'Bill, do you see what this is in my hand?'
'It's a pin. And I'm going to dig it right into you wherever I think it will hurt most, unless you stop being Harold at once. I'll tell you exactly what you've got to do, and you needn't think you're going to do anything else. When we get to New York, I first borrow the money from you to buy a hat, and then we walk to the City Hall, where you go to the window marked "Marriage Licences", and buy one. It will cost you one dollar. You will give your correct name and age and you will hear mine. It will come as a shock to you to know that my second name is something awful! I've kept it concealed all my life. After we've done that we shall go to the only church that anybody could possibly be married in. It's on Twenty-ninth Street, just round the corner from Fifth Avenue. It's got a fountain playing in front of it, and it's a little bit of heaven dumped right down in the middle of New York. And after that—well, we might start looking about for that farm we've talked of. We can get a good farm for five million dollars, and leave something over to be doled out—cautiously—to Nutty.
'And then all we have to do is to live happily ever after.'
Something small and soft slipped itself into his hand, just as it had done ages and ages ago in Lady Wetherby's wood.
It stimulated Bill's conscience to one last remonstrance.
'But, I say, you know—'
'This business of the money, you know. What I mean to say is—Ow!'
He broke off, as a sharp pain manifested itself in the fleshy part of his leg. Elizabeth was looking at him reprovingly, her weapon poised for another onslaught.
'I told you!' she said.
'All right, I won't do it again.'
'That's a good child. Bill, listen. Come closer and tell me all sorts of nice things about myself till we get to Jamaica, and then I'll tell you what I think of you. We've just passed Islip, so you've plenty of time.'